OPINION

UCT should take a stand against racism - Graham McIntosh

The second letter from former opposition MP, alumnus and potential donor, to the university's administration, September 9 2015

Text of email from former MP Graham McIntosh to Russell Ally, Executive Director Alumni & Development, University of Cape Town, September 9 2015

Subject: Dinner in GLENARA & Leaving a Legacy --Can UCT be trusted any longer?

UCT Legacy Department

Dear Russell,

Your response to my email (below) of 20 July 2015 was gracious.

I have previously thanked you for your extraordinary kindness, concern and commitment to UCT and your leadership around its Alumni Legacy campaign

It is in the sincere and genuine spirit of collegiality that this robust response is written. That collegiality extended to Principal Max Price hosting me, you and Professors “PJ” Schwikkard and Sakhela Buhlungu, to a delicious evening meal in Glenara on the 27 July. The last time that I was in “Glenara Castle”, or so it seemed to me as a student in the 1960s, was at University occasions with Principals Duminy and Luyt. I was honoured to dine with such eminent academics, although none of them, curiously, had been undergraduates like me, at UCT, as far as I could discover.

I think that you were able to assess that I seek to be constructive and considerate, even if I have strong views that produce disagreements. I believe that you were also assured that, in financial terms, I am not a “man of straw”, and the possibility of a ten figure endowment from my family Trust is real.

A notable absence at dinner was the Lady Macbeth (Deborah Posel) of Glenara Castle. The “pillow talk” that happened, judging from her public academic record, must indeed have been interesting during the Rhodes Must Fall campaign. In a sense a drama and tragedy was unfolding in the Glenara Castle during that turbulent time. An added irony, if not a puzzling contradiction, is that both the occupants of Glenara enriched their academic status through benefitting from Rhodes Scholarships.

My responses to the evening and the “table talk” follow. I also wish to make some suggestions as to a possible “third way” around not only the “Rhodes must Fall” matter but also how UCT can re-affirm its values that were established in the dark days of National Party rule.

Many, if not most, of the Alumni of my generation are extremely concerned that those values have been seriously eroded by the way that the VC, the Council and the Senate succumbed, despite, to my mind, the unconvincing rationalisations and explanations offered, to what was a form of mob rule in the way that the decision was made to remove the seated Rhodes. There was a notable absence of good governance and that can only promote a climate of fear.

Professor Sakhela Buhlungu, as Dean of Humanities, is a great potential leadership asset for UCT. Not only does he have a beautiful first name – paraphrased it means “come let us build for others” -- but his surname talks of pain. Coming from what was the cesspit of Walter Sisulu University in Mthatha and having been a teacher at Mevana Secondary School (AB Xuma is a former scholar) near Idutywa which, only a few years ago, was burnt and trashed including its computers, and having knowledge of how SADTU is poisoning education in what were the former “bantu education” schools of South Africa, he understands pain. He has close personal experience of “the heart of darkness”. Presumably he moved to UCT, as so many black parents sacrifice to send their children to former “Model C” schools, because he wanted to be part of a team in a well-run university.

My own view is that he must abandon Marx’s paradigm and be a champion of the real values of UCT, which are liberal. He will have to have the moral courage of Zizipho Pae who is a true Joan of Arc in standing up for her Christian values and resisting the intimidation of the LBGT “revolutionaries”. Many respectable academics have matured away from Marx. Read only the preface of RW Johnson’s recent book (Will South Africa Survive) to see one important South African and Oxford academic who did. My personal view of Marx is that the correct place for him is in Madame Tussaud’s alongside Stalin, Mao and Dracula. 

It is not easy being a Principal of a South African Tertiary Institution. If one looks at how many “crash” and how many move on, including Colin Bundy. Even our tough Pedi Prince and eminent scientist, Malegapuru Mokgoba, has moved on, unlamented, from UKZN. Mandela famously opined that “South Africa is not for cissies”. I think that Adam Habib and Jonathan Jansen are not cissies, but Max Price is. Unfortunately the Council and the Senate joined him in this “cissie-ism”. 

It is clear to me that “transformation” must obtain proper content because it is fast becoming an Alice in Wonderland word, where it means anything you want it to mean. My first encounter with transformation was in my first year at UCT when I read Paul’s letter to the church in Rome where he wrote in Chapter 12, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind”. Is that not the fundamental purpose of a university education – to grow, stretch and renew young minds?

The biggest threat to human rights, is racism and genderism and UCT should stand against those objectionable values. One understanding of transformation, and the one that the black racist left wants to be dominant, is nothing more than a crude race based social engineering, which is in the same genre as Verwoerd’s apartheid (remember that Verwoerd was no mean intellectual). UCT should oppose this degrading attitude, just as it opposed the National Party’s education policies.

My alarm bells rang when I read about the appointment of Dr Elelwani Ramugondo and that she is a “vernacular African first language speaker”. Why that coyness? Her names suggest to me (I have visited Tshakuma, Tshilidzini and, indeed, Ciawelo) that she is from a Venda back ground but maybe, because the Zulu King once insultingly referred to Cyril Ramaphosa, as “that Venda”, she is sensitive about mentioning her mother tongue. On paper she seems great because she has had a wonderful more than twenty year career in occupational therapy at UCT, but then I remember that Riah Phiyega had a wonderful and impressive career in social work. We all wish Elelwani well but we will be monitoring what she does and if she actually needs to do anything.

My own view is that UCT has done a magnificent job of transformation (it actually started in the 1980s even though that was its goal from the late 1950s) but it must now, twenty one years after our democracy, abandon any kind of quota thinking and go for quality but with an allowance for mitigating circumstances when people apply for places. If it doesn’t, it is patronising that flood of well-educated black applicants, who are perfectly competent, or succumbing to pressure from those who have inferiority challenges a lá Fanon and who use Marxist crudities to justify their racist arguments.

It must also stop discriminating against the white “born frees”. This matter of quality applies to the teaching staff in particular. South Africa needs every qualified university teacher regardless of race and age. After all, we are building two brand new universities as well as growing the number of students at existing universities. Mandela understood perfectly, as did Julius Nyerere and Kenneth Kaunda, how important the whites – and indeed all South Africans were.

To try to marginalise the whites is simply as stupid as a farmer locking one of his best bulls or rams in a kraal and not allowing it to cover the cows and ewes. The whites have great influence and skills but no power but they are a precious national asset in terms of human resources and especially in our universities.

Trevor Manuel (March 2011) in a seminal letter, demolished the racist politics of Jimmy Manyi. UCT also should not take seriously the threats coming from Iqbal Survé, whom I believe, the public of the Western Cape (I happily live in KZN) regard as their very own Donald Trump. UCT acted with its best instincts in asking the fired Cape Times Editor to address one of its graduation ceremonies.

FINDING A CREATIVE AND POSITIVE PATH.

I was not in the pressure cooker around the Rhodes must Fall campaign and hindsight with distance is easy, but I would have sought to capitalise on Rhodes and his history, not remove him, and try to do something helpful for Southern Africa. There is another way to recycle (maybe a better word than transformation) the Rhodes legacy. After all the very land on which UCT is built was part of his legacy! I have a few ideas for consideration, not hard proposals.

A THIRD WAY.

Rhodes is much too big a footprint – “an immense and brooding spirit” -- in Southern Africa, let alone internationally through the Rhodes Scholarships to Oxford University, to have received the disgraceful treatment that Max Price and the Council and Senate inflicted on him. Even Mugabe acknowledges that he would not want Rhodes moved from his grave in the Matopos, in case, in correct African tradition, Rhodes’s spirit moves free!!

The way it was done, will probably see Max Price, like the coaches of our sports teams, or any other unsuccessful CEO, fired. Every student involved as storm troopers at the Council Meeting, should have been suspended, for up to a year and only allowed back, if at all, under certain conditions including being examined on a reading list, which should include at least, Meredith’s highly readable “Diamonds, Gold and War” and the recent “Illustrated History of Black South Africans in the Anglo-Boer War”. Rhodes had a major role in instigating that war.

A BOLD RECONCILIATION

I believe that the Rhodes statue should be placed back on the Campus, although not necessarily in the identical positon but with a new statue of Lobengula close by. It is entirely appropriate and I am being serious when I say this, that Robert Mugabe be invited to unveil the statue of Lobengula. Rhodes and Zimbabwe are inextricably linked. The need for a reconciliation in Zimbabwe between the Matabele and Mugabe, after the Gukahurundimassacre, which Mugabe ordered, remains important and recognising Lobengula would be a way for that to happen. Mugabe openly hates whites and that will appeal to black radicals. Together with Mugabe, Judith Todd, who is a UCT Alumna (I passed Latin 1!) and the daughter of the late Garfield Todd who has told her story of her involvement in the struggle in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe in her biographical book “Through the Darkness”, should be invited to play a part in the unveiling.

THE AFRICA LEGACY

The statue of Rhodes in the Company Gardens in Cape Town has the sentence inscribed “Your Hinterland lies there”. UCT is very keen to become the leading university of Africa rather than one of them. In a way UCT wants to grow it’s academic hinterland/turf and one could whisper, “academic imperialism”. Rhodes was a child of the age of British imperialism but the Soviets and the Communists were also imperialists and the Chinese presently the most brazen. Rhodes’s “Cape to Cairo” dream could be recycled very positively by UCT and the Western Cape. After all, President Jacob Zuma lives in Rhodes’s old home and with what is alleged to be the original carving of the Zimbabwe bird.

HONORARY DOCTORATES

There are two South Africans that UCT ought to honour and, in so doing, affirm its liberal traditions. 

One is John Kane-Berman (another one of those Rhodes scholars whose talents and skills have so hugely enriched South Africa) who has just retired as CEO of the South African Institute for Race Relations. He wrote a very important book on the 1976 Soweto uprisings and he is a fine academic and social researcher. The SAIRR has been respected for more than 80 years for its fearless independence and superb quality of research and publications. A number of government departments, including the Presidency, subscribe to its research.

The other is Charles van Onselen, who is now at the University of Pretoria and doing important research. His magisterial “The Seed is Mine – the life of Kas Maine”, is only one of his excellent publications. His public pursuit of truth around Malegapuru Mokgoba’s qualifications demonstrated exceptional moral courage, as that collection of Wits graduates who are now UCT academics will recognise.

This is a lengthy reply, Russell, but this is an important matter.

At this stage and until I see more signs of UCT committing to good governance and liberal values, I am unlikely, as Trustee, to recommend an endowment.

Thanks again for your work at the Development foundation.

I now regard this correspondence as closed. 

Graham.